The U.S. is at a tipping point. Its federal government cannot operate efficiently and its military can’t untangle itself from lengthy warfare. Business prospects are low, industrial innovation has been stifled, the citizenry is divided and political discord is at the broiling point.
Is this it for the American Dream? Hardly, according to George Friedman.
In “Storm Before the Calm,” he acknowledges the nation is entering an unusually calamitous period of instability, but he argues the tension is not only normal, but essential. As an invented country that originally desired to balance individual liberty with national interest, the U.S. needs slivers of years to redefine, then reinvent itself, he says. Only by doing this can the nation meet its needs while staying true to its founders’ intentions.
As a geopolitical forecaster, Friedman is a believer in societal cycles, tiered toward the characteristics of the land and its people. In this nation’s case, he argues, there are two ongoing cycles: a roughly 80-year institutional cycle, which links the relationship of the government to its citizenry; and a 50-year socioeconomic cycle that defines the dynamics of the nation’s economy and society.
According to Friedman, the U.S. has already witnessed three institutional and five socioeconomic cycles. What makes the 2020s unique is that both cycles will occur nearly simultaneously. Friedman doesn’t mask the pain and toil the average American will endure, but like an insect undergoing metamorphosis, the nation will shed its old cycle-encrusted skin and emerge better prepared to deal with the challenges it faces.
Friedman uses an examination of the nation’s founding and all its cycles to show how we’ve reached this place. He presently sees a government bogged down by technocrats (nonideological, apolitical specialists dedicated to lone fields of expertise), big-tech innovation stagnated by the declining value of the microchip, capitalists sitting on too much cash and a struggling underclass being denied avenues to upward mobility.
He believes those issues, in varying degrees, will be addressed, perhaps rectified, in the coming 10–15 years. Friedman admits he can’t factor in some variables, such as climate change and artificial intelligence. And it’s worth noting this book was written before the nation was rocked by COVID-19 and the George Floyd killing.
Still, amid the rancorous din of Twitter, Tik-Tok and Trump, Friedman reaffirms to us our current state of rage has all been done before.
Jeff Schulze is a sports content editor at The Free Lance–Star.